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Where have you gone, Ken Sanders?
04/10/2002  5:05 AM ET
MILWAUKEE -- As Major League Baseball officials waded through the sport's most turbulent off-season in years, a former Brewers reliever and current Players Alumni Association board member watched and waited.

Ken Sanders has seen worse, and he has a 30-year-old photograph on his desk to prove it. It pictures Sanders, then a right-handed Brewers reliever, manager Dave Bristol, general manager Frank Lane and then-Brewers owner Bud Selig.

"We're leaning over Bud's desk and Bud had a rotary phone up to his head," said Sanders, now 60. "The importance of that picture -- and I don't know how I ever got it -- it was 1972 and we were waiting for the phone call that the first strike had ended."

Thirty years later, Sanders hopes baseball never gets to that point again.

He has been on the board of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA) for nearly two decades, so Sanders watched the off-season wrangling closely. The players and union chief Donald Fehr are working with Commissioner Selig toward a new basic agreement. Sanders, in his role with the MLBPAA, is involved in planning for players' futures once they leave baseball.

"As I think about the basic agreement and the dollars involved, I've had this feeling that if we were smart back then we would have had some provisions to go back and taken care of some of the former players," Sanders said. "If we had known that salaries were going to get to $250,000 or $500,000 -- we never thought they'd get to $1 million -- we would have done that.

"We have some former players who are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s who are vested pension earners, and they don't get enough money per month to pay for their medical expenses."

The MLBPAA and the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT) can often help former players and their families. Sanders said he once got a call from former Brewer Gene Brabender's sister in Black Earth, Wis. Brabender, a Wisconsin native who pitched five seasons and won a championship with the 1966 Baltimore Orioles, died that morning and the woman said she could not afford funeral expenses.

"He had fallen on tough times," Sanders said. "He had to sell his World Series ring and fortunately we were able to help."

Sanders also chairs a fundraising golf tournament in the Milwaukee area, with past participants including Ferguson Jenkins, Tom Seaver, Carlton Fisk, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Olivia and former Brewers like Lew Krause, Cecil Cooper, Gorman Thomas and Robin Yount. The 17th annual "Swing With the Legends", scheduled for June 16-17 at the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa in Lake Geneva, Wis., is one of about 30 of tournaments staged by the MLBPAA around the U.S.

Sanders also works in more informal capacities, attending Brewers fantasy camps and offering advice to some current Major Leaguers. Infielder Mark Loretta is the Brewers union representative, and said it can be "fascinating" to learn from former big leaguers.

"I see it as an opportunity to broaden my horizons and it's interesting, yeah," Loretta said. "There are some very, very, very intelligent people on both sides. It's great just to listen to some of their ideas and some of their insight."

Sanders gained his insight over 10 Major League seasons with nine different clubs in eight different cities, including a three-year stay with the Brewers from 1970-72.

He posted a career-best 1.75 ERA in 50 games after coming to Milwaukee from the Oakland A's, and followed up with a 1.91 ERA while leading the league with 83 relief appearances and 31 saves in 1971. He won Fireman of the Year and Brewers Most Valuable Player honors that season, and still holds the franchise record for appearances in a season.

By the time Sanders' career ended after the 1976 season, he had already decided to make Milwaukee home.

"After the '71 season I said, 'let's buy a house, we'll be here forever,'" he said. "I was traded nine months later and then another two months after that. But we decided to raise our family here, and we adopted two babies here so obviously Milwaukee has been an important part of our life."

Since his playing career ended, Sanders has become a prominent real estate man in the area. He currently serves as vice president of corporate services for Milwaukee- and Chicago-based Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, selling corporate relocation services.

"I love real estate," Sanders said. "But it's been crazy this past year."

The same can be said of his other love.

Adam McCalvy and Brad Girsch cover the Brewers for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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